On Monday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that will resolve the longstanding national anxiety about the unfair gulf between sentences meted out for cocaine versus crack possession. Historically, crack has carried significantly harsher punishments, despite being essentially the same drug in a different form. It isn't lost on observers that crack is more often used by poor, black and marginalized people, whereas cocaine users tend to be more privileged. A new law, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, was supposed to reduce the sentencing disparity to a ratio of at least 18 to 1 (the fact that this is a dramatic improvement reveals how radically unjust the laws had been beforehand: often 100 to 1), but it only explicitly applied to new offenders, who were charged after the law came into effect in August 2010. Crack users convicted prior to the introduction of the new law were left in limbo: would their sentences be reduced? That's the question the Supreme Court is set to resolve by hearing the case of Edward Dorsey, who pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute 5.5 grams of crack in 2008. At the time, he was subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years. The case has been appealed up the chain, and we can only wait for justice to be served by the likes of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
- Chris Christie Speaks Out Against War on Drugs [Huffington Post]
- Ambien: A Drug That Wakes the Near Dead [New York Times]
- New Report on High Rates of Psychiatric Meds Prescribed to Foster Kids [Washington Post]
- NY Doc Accused of Illegally Distributing Oxycodone [Wall Street Journal]
- How Drunk Can You Get at Your Office Christmas Party? [Grub Street]
- America's Druggiest Colleges [Daily Beast]
- Cocaine Found on 11% of UK Banknotes [The Guardian]
So much for practicing what you preach. Bas de Bont, CEO of the Dutch chemical dependency treatment group Addictioncare/Momentum GGZ, was arrested after causing quite the ruckus on a plane, while allegedly seriously intoxicated. De Bont was on an Amsterdam-bound flight from South Africa last Friday—not the first to be disrupted by some outlandish behavior recently. His company runs two luxurious rehabs in the (irony alert!) winelands outside of Cape Town. During the flight, witnesses report, De Bont “behaved aggressively,” knocking several passengers over and eventually attempting to open the emergency exit doors mid-flight, and to invade the cockpit. Maybe he was just upset about being forced to watch the same episode of Two and a Half Men over and over for the in-flight entertainment. Upon landing, De Bont was taken into custody by military police for endangering the flight—and, we’d imagine, causing a few near-heart attacks for his fellow passengers. According to his online biography, De Bont beat a decade-long addiction to ecstasy, cocaine and GHB, and is now addicted only to “work and golf.” That could use a little updating after this spectacular flame-out.
A report on drug addiction in Iran from Foreign Policy magazine paints a mixed picture of a repressive regime that has taken some steps towards coming to grips with a serious drug problem. There are 1.2 million Iranian opiate addicts; perhaps that's not surprising given that the nation acts as a major conduit for opium and heroin headed westward from Afghanistan to markets in Europe. The stigma attached to heroin addiction in the capital Tehran is complicated by the fact that opium smoking has been a cultural mainstay in Iran for hundreds of years, and is still common in rural areas. Iran's typically hardline, Sharia-law guided government might be expected to take a zero tolerance approach to drug addiction. But in fact there are some ways in which Tehran's response is more progressive than our own. Methadone assisted treatment is available to addicts—in Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota, it is not—and a burgeoning 12-Step movement provides community support. The regime may use brutal tactics in handling accused drug smugglers, but Iran's approach to addicts themselves appears to be far more humane than that of nations such as Vietnam and Cambodia. Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that these governments routinely route addicts to hard labor camps where human rights abuses are rife.
It’s the end of an era: many Dutch coffee shops will no longer sell marijuana to tourists, starting on January 1st 2012, with a nationwide ban to follow in 2013. That means you have just one month to hotfoot it to Holland to enjoy legal pot, thanks to a controversial ruling by the Dutch Justice Ministry. Dutch coffee shops have openly sold small amounts of weed since 1976. The change is intended to cut down on anti-social behavior by the tourists who flood Dutch cities like Amsterdam, drawn by drugs. Some Dutch MPs oppose the move, branding it “tourism suicide.” The new policy means coffee shops must become “private clubs,” with a maximum of 2,000 members each, requiring membership cards. The cards will only be available to Dutch residents. A pilot program launched on October 1 in the border city of Maastricht confined cannabis sales to Dutch, German and Belgian customers. This reportedly led to the loss of over 345 jobs and will cost the city approximately $41 million dollars per year in pot tourism, mostly from France.
The ban will take effect in the southern Netherlands first, and by 2013 will engulf the entire country, including Amsterdam. Some are already suggesting it will be counter-productive: “If tourists are denied access to coffee-shops, illegal sales and drug dealing on the streets of Amsterdam will increase," says I Amsterdam, a consortium that includes the Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board. "The City of Amsterdam does not want to facilitate soft drug use by tourists, but to help those who wish to use drugs to do so as responsibly as possible." According to Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board spokesman Machteld Ligvoet, the move was has been forced upon the city by the government: “The Dutch government has decided this for the whole of the Netherlands. Amsterdam doesn’t want it.” The open sale of weed in Amsterdam is soon going to be another thing we reminisce about—just like the days when getting on an airplane didn’t feel like trying to cross Checkpoint Charlie. It seems strange that the Dutch government has decided to focus on pot smokers in its bid to crack down on rowdy tourists. A better idea might be to ban the sale of alcohol.
Today is World AIDS Day, when activists and supporters unite on issues like the lack of funding for treatment and the criminalization of unsafe sex. Global protests are also being held to highlight how Russia’s brutal handling of its drug using population is driving the AIDS epidemic there. Protests are taking place today outside of Russian embassies in ten different countries. Speakers at the London event include renowned human rights activist Peter Tatchell and Eliot Albers of INPUD (The International Network of People who Use Drugs). Other protests are in New York, Canberra, Marseilles, Barcelona, Bucharest, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Tbilisi and Toronto.
The figures are staggering. Russia’s inhumane treatment of drug users is well-known, but the outrages perpetrated against citizens in the name of the War on Drugs are worth repeating: Russia’s HIV epidemic is the fastest growing in the world, and more than 80% of new infections occur in drug users. Russia currently has a total HIV positive population of one million; if something isn’t done to reverse this trend, recent projections suggest the total could rise to five million in the near future. The pandemic is worsened by the authorities' almost prehistoric attitude to drug addiction. They reject substitution therapies such as methadone or suboxone, and instead employ punitive measures that have further drive the problem underground. Needle exchange programs are non-existent; this puts Russia at odds with UN human rights monitors, who have repeatedly stated that harm reduction policies are essential for states to comply with the right to health.
With 100,000 drug related deaths in Russia per year—30,000 of these linked to heroin alone—and ever more dangerous drugs emerging, it's high time for change.